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It's no surprise that someone who prowls the "territory where minds meet technology" runs across some potent techno-trends, from personal computers to virtual reality. People who read Howard Rheingold's book The Virtual Community in 1993 understood the Internet would grow into something big. That's why they had best pay attention to his current obsession: a phenomenon he has named "smart mobs."
In his latest book of the same name, the 56-year-old Marin County (Calif.) author and builder of pioneering online communities such as Electric Minds argues that ubiquitous mobile Internet communications are spurring a new social revolution. The early signs include urban hipsters using the Web to arrange ad-hoc "swarms" of people for fun and political action, as well as Filipino protesters mounting rallies via cell-phone text messages.
True to form, Rheingold ends up with a provocative question: "What can you do when you have a billion people walking around with computing devices connected at high speeds?" He's not sure exactly what tangible business applications might result. But it's a good bet he's onto something big once again.